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Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Story About Nothing

I have been told that in Switzerland, people will always wait for a walk light, even in a small rural town at an intersection with no visible traffic in any direction.

I have been told that in California, if a pedestrian steps into a street, cars will stop.

I will tell you that as a New Yorker, it's every man or woman for himself or herself. Cars, regardless of laws or unfair size advantage, will compete with you for the roadway and will nearly run you down. And, traffic or not, we run through intersections without walk lights in our favor and dodge traffic.

In addition to issues of impatience waiting for walk lights, we also have a condition here of such severe crowds on the sidewalks, that many resort to walking in the curb or even in the roadway itself. Bicyclists are also aggressive. For some, these brazen acts of pedestrian and vehicular defiance confer Street Cred.

In 1998, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as part of his Quality of Life campaign, decided to initiate a crackdown on jaywalking. This short-lived effort was rather laughable and barely enforced, with only 99 tickets being issued that year. New York City is not Singapore.

The reckless attitude of motorists towards pedestrians does not end with civilians. Police can also be rather overzealous. In Washington Square Park, for example, many are displeased with the rather aggressive habits of many officers speeding through narrow pedestrian walkways inside the park.

In the 1970s, my girlfriend was arrested for kicking a police car with her roller skates. An altercation had occurred between a police officer and a skater who was tapping electricity from a lamppost to power his boombox for playing music for roller skaters. A chase ensued, backup police were called, and a police vehicle came careening recklessly into the park, nearly hitting pedestrians. My girlfriend, furious at the near hit, kicked and dented the squad car with her skates and was arrested along with the perpetrator.

Ever the city of opportunity and opportunists, here on the highways, in moving traffic with little clearance, we have sellers of fruit, flowers, and water. I rarely need the flowers or water, but now I regret not having purchased a bag of fruit.* It would have made a nice snack, perhaps a quick chat with the vendor, and not have left me with a story about nothing :)

*I believe the fruit is Melicoccus bijugatus, grown over a wide area of the tropics, including South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, parts of Africa and the Pacific. It is called Spanish lime, chenette, guaya, guinea, genip, genipe, quenepa, mamoncillo, mamón, ackee, skinnip, kenepa, xenepa, canapé, knippa, limoncillo, anoncillo, or honeyberry.

Related Posts: Hearts of Palm, Bygones Be Bygones, Durian


MW said...

I am a Californian who has lived in Switzerland and mostly what you say is true. However, I jaywalk with more confidence in NYC... pack mentality! In California I'm not so trusting that everyone knows they should legally stop. At least in NYC I am not alone.

keiko said...

very true in california because we can get ticketed! cops on motorcycles often hide in parking lots or other places while they send out a "jaywalker" to cross the street. if you don't stop, they ride out and ticket you. doesn't matter if they walk out literally right in front of your car and you have zero time to stop safely, you still get a ticket. i suppose it builds up revenue for the city.

Leslie said...

If you ever get to taste that fruit, please let us know what it's like!

That guy is crazy for being out there; I hope he only zips out into that traffic when it's practically at a standstill...yikes.

Mary P. said...

What a way to make a living!!!

Anonymous said...

I have been this year for a week in Manhattan. After return to Germany I don´t care of red lights anymore.

Thérèse said...

We are getting tickets for jaywalking in Phoenix... Anonymus is going to be in trouble sooner or later...I know it for a personal fact while living there... said...

This is NY!

Broadway, soul of New York

Mike said...

I've only been in New York City for less than a month, and I can't help but be as aggressive as this city's pedestrians. You're right, the fleshy human-body competes with the body of vehicles in trying to control their right-of-way in the streets here.